A Day with Lucy Calkins: What Do Musicians, Athletes, and Readers Have in Common?

Nov 5, 2010 by

This week I had the opportunity to spend a whole day listening to Lucy Calkins talk about the teaching of reading.  It was such a rich day that I left with 11 pages of handwritten notes and a mind full of even more thoughts and ideas.  I often say that if I get one great idea at a workshop, it is worth attending.  This day left me with too many ideas to count.  I wanted to try to convey some of them to you, but as I look over my notes, I don’t even know where to start.  So I am going to just pick one thing to share today and save the others for some future blog posts.

Partway through the day Lucy asked if there was an accomplished musician and an accomplished athlete in the room of several hundred people.  Two male teachers came forward and Lucy proceeded to interview them.  She asked questions such as, “How did you get good at your music/sport?”  “Who helped you get good?”  “Did anyone ever give you feedback?”  “What did you do after you were given feedback?”  “What kind of feedback helped you get better?”  What came through loud and clear during the interviews was that both the musician and the athlete spent incredible amounts of time practicing and that they received specific, targeted feedback from an expert (music teacher/coach) about their performance. After receiving this feedback, they went back and practiced some more.

The point was that we don’t get good at something without spending time on it.  Reading is no different from any other skill—if children are to become expert readers, they need to spend large quantities of time reading, and they need specific, targeted feedback from their teachers.  There is nothing we can do from the front of the room that can ever take the place of time spent reading.  Lucy said that children should be spending at least 90 minutes of their school day reading.  This 90-minute recommendation is for time spent actually reading, however—not on reading-related activities.  In her book A Guide to the Reading Workshop, she writes, “the single most important thing we can do to turn schools around, making them into places where youngsters thrive as readers, is to clear out the time and space so that children can learn to read by reading.”  Richard Allington warns that we need to be careful that we aren’t replacing real reading with what he calls “crap.”  He says, “Crap is the technical term reserved for all the non-reading and non-writing activities that fill kids’ days—the dittos, dioramas, papier-mache maps…all that chases real reading and real writing out of the school day.”  In addition to the 90-minute in-school reading, children should spend additional time reading for pleasure at home daily.

Are you not yet convinced that kids need to spend this much time just reading?  Let me share some statistics with you.  Here is a table that shows the results of a study which examined how amount of reading affected achievement scores of fifth-graders:

Reading Volume of Fifth-Grade Students
of Different Levels of Achievement

Achievement Percentile

Minutes of Reading per Day

per Year










Source:  Anderson, R.C., P. Wilson, and L. Fielding. 1988. “Growth in Reading and How Children Spend Their Time Outside of School.” Reading Research Quarterly. 23 (3), 285-303.

Clearly, children who read more attain higher levels of achievement in reading.

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